The regulars -
The Time Warrior written by Robert Holmes and directed by Alan Bromley
The Mighty Nose: The very story that this category gets its name from! I recall Uncle Terry once mentioning that Pertwee like Robert Holmes scripts because he allowed him ‘moments of charm’. Moments? This is possibly (with Carnival of Monsters) the most charming the third Doctor ever got, he’s like a rapier of witty lines, fantastic ideas and a wealth of sparkling scenes. When I think of the third Doctor I conjour both the acerbic poison tongue of season seven and the gentler bewitching version he became when he softened into the role. And who would have ever thought Pertwee could have equal (if not better?) chemistry with Lis Sladen as he did with Katy Manning. This is a much more fun pairing since Sarah doesn’t want to hand him his test tubes, tell him how clever he is or make the tea…she’s her own woman and yet she is still charmed by him. As are we all.
I love how the Doctor puts his feet up and thoughtfully tries to decide what to do with Sarah the journalist spy. As soon as he spots the guns in the Middle Ages he declares the whole scheme absolute lunacy. He’s just a tourist but he likes it on Earth. Finally we get to se where the Doctor gets his marvellous bouffant done, at Linx the barbershop – he looks hilarious with that volumiser atop his white curls! The Doctor being chased around the courtyard is like a medieval Benny Hill sketch but I love how he was an action man right up until his demise. A long shank rascal with a mighty nose and works for UNIT in an advisory capacity. He’s a courtly rogue and charms his captors and gets appointed as Lord Wessex’s warlock! The Doctor’s idea of a playful counter attack consists of stink bombs and dummies! He’s serious about what he does but not necessarily how he does it and considers the Time Lord’s as galactic ticket inspectors. He takes real umbrage at the suggestion that he tried to gas Irongron’s men! Hilariously he copies Edward’s manner of tossing food over his shoulder. He wants to make a magic potion to slay the dog or at least to calm him down. He cannot stand on the sidelines as Linx tortures the scientists, even at the cost of his own life. Now he’s over 200 he’s not a lad anymore.
Sumptuous Sarah: I love Sarah and straight away she is something a bit special, not attempting to blow up the whole of UNIT HQ or getting hypnotised (actually the latter does happen but its no where near as damaging to her character as it was for Jo in Terror of the Autons). She forces herself into the story, pretending to her he aunt to get a good story for her paper. She asks a lot of questions because she’s a journalist (argh! Scum!). Like Zoe before her she is a very welcome stowaway. Sarah being accosted by a peasant is hilarious – she really gives as good as she gets (‘If this is a rag day joke it isn’t funny!’). Go and watch the scene where she mouths off to Irongron and tries to figure out where she is, she manages to be bolshie (‘Get lost!’), cute, funny, annoying and perfectly plausible. She’s not uncomely (raises eyebrows). Sarah as military advisor to Lord Wessex is quite brilliant, he declares if he had an army of Sarah’s he could take the kingdom! Her feisty approach at rousing the gentry really shows how you really wouldn’t want to get on her bad side! She takes great delight in capturing the Doctor. Sarah manages to convince as both an insulting ‘Lady’ (‘Stand aside or I shall have you flogged!’) and a starving serving wench. Sarah’s women’s lib is treated hilariously: ‘What subservient poppycock! You’re still living in the Middle Ages!’ She’s not so sure that the Doctor isn’t a magician.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All my eggs in one basket’ ‘That’s fine so long as no one steals the basket…’
‘A straight line might be the most direct route between two points but it’s by no means the most interesting.’
‘Why don’t you take off that ridiculous gear and go home to your butchers shop!’
‘Are you wearing a hat?’
‘Young girl? I would have thought he was a bit old for that sort of thing?’
‘I’ll chop him up so fine that not even a sparrow will fill its beak!’
‘He’s just like a little boy stirring up and red ants and the black ants…’
‘Isn’t that a bit unsporting old chap? I mean sitting ducks and all that?’
‘I’m in no great hurry I assure you!’
‘He is a toad! Who knows what a toad thinks?’
The Good Stuff: David Daker and John Carney make a superb double act from their first scene, really complimenting each other (read – egging each other on!). The design of the Sontaran ship is blissfully simple and impressive as is his armour. Linx intrigues straight away with Kevin Lindsey giving a far more subtle performance than your usual monster. Supplying weapons to the Middle Ages is such a delicious Holmesian idea. Ruebish annoys some people but I find him a lovable bumbler with some great lines (‘I haven’t seen my wife and family for three days now. Just goes to show there’s always a silver lining!’). Dot Cotton (aka June Brown) makes her presence felt as Lady Eleanor – ‘Does he walk so high that an arrow cannot reach him?’ How magnificent does the TARDIS look atop that leafy hill? I remember when I first saw the Sontaran make up when the video first came out way back when when I was a wee nipper and I recoiled at the shock. It really is peerless and would never quite be this good ever again (I love the way his skin glistens). In the Sontaran military academy they have hatchlings of over a million cadets and thus they can sustain massive causalities – the Sontarans have been beautifully thought through by Robert Holmes. I really feel for the robot knight with arrows in his chest and his head lopped off! The sets are mossy, straw laden, dripping with lichen and filth and the location work in and around the castle is superb, I especially love the lush forest. In a story full of great set pieces the noisy, stinky, smoky attack on Lord Wessex’s castle comes out on top. Eww…Linx hisses like a snake when he gets a knock on his probic vent. Can I just say that ‘Look at that great spider!’ really works! The amount of friends that I have made squeal like a pig with that line brings a smile to my face. It is a bit lame but the arrow in the vent is a really nasty way to go.
The Bad Stuff: Irongron must be so stupid not to see that the robot has the Doctor inside! The castle explosion is really horrible, its just some cut in stock footage of falling rubble and yet oddly enough the spanking new CGI version is hardly better – in a way a cut to an FX shot is even less convincing!
Result: How wonderful is it to see the 3rd Doctor enjoying a historical adventure? This is another sparkling story from the undervalued season eleven which flaunts an effervescent script with gorgeous lines for every character and a great cast brining them all to life. Its one of the most enjoyable Doctor Who stories thanks to Robert Holmes insistence on keeping everything so lively and bubbly and he writes Sarah into the Sarah with awesome proficiency giving her a feisty, independent attitude from the start. Have the Sontarans been more precisely written for since The Time Warrior? Definitely not, there have been the odd moments of glory but Holmes manages to paint a picture of an entire race with pin sharp accuracy and only one example. The Time Warrior destroys the lie that the Pertwee era got worse as it went along: 9/10
Invasion of the Dinosaurs written by Malcolm Hulke and directed by Paddy Russell
Sassy Sarah: I adore Sarah Jane Smith; I feel the need to get that off my chest because you will never hear me say a bad word about her no matter how daft she acts. I had a total crush on her when I was eight which played havoc with my burgeoning sexuality and those feelings have never really gone away. Oddly she looks better than ever these days! The Sarah from Season Eleven is far more like the Sarah from Bannerman Road than what she would become in the Baker years. She’s a razor sharp career girl, independent and will follow her own hunches regardless of the Doctor’s opinion. She tries to make sense of the story with some intelligence, offering suggestions of how the dinosaurs could have come to be and investigating nuclear bunkers to power the experiments that bring them forward in time. She wants snaps of the T Rex to sell to the papers after the crisis is over. Sarah talks about contacts and makes her own allies, she feels far more grounded in the real world than any of the previous companions. She’s brave too, jumping on the back of a knife wielding maniac and is willing to open an airlock and risk being spat out into space to prove her theory that the spaceship set up is a sham. Sarah is the story’s conscience, pointing out how cruel it is to delude the environmentalists and pointing out that rolling back time is worse than murder. Sarah rocks, always has and always will.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘So much for honour amongst thieves!’
‘Doctor, you’re under arrest!’
‘If we don’t get down there there won’t be a London Transport to explain to!’
The Good Stuff: The deserted London scenes are fantastically eerie, decades before 28 Days Later. The first episode is the most atmospheric for many a season with acres of location work, mystery and strong roles for both the Doctor and Sarah. The mashed up car and bloodied corpse really sell the danger they are in. In this serious setting UNIT are suddenly a powerful military force again, evacuating London, and not just comedy stooges. I really like the idea of UNIT setting up shop in a school as it makes a refreshing change from the usual laboratory sets. What’s this? Character development and follow up? Yates’ betrayal in The Green Death is acknowledged and built upon. His sabotage is the best shock amongst the UNIT gang since the Brigadier blew up the Silurian base. Peter Miles and Martin Jarvis make a devilish duo. Grover is a refreshingly moralistic bad guy and not played in the usual melodramatic fashion (I love his ‘I do hope in the future we can be friends’ to Sarah despite her attempts to expose him). The blue pulsing lights that freak out Sarah have a similarly disorienting effect on the viewer. The cliffhanger to episode three comes from absolutely nowhere and works because of it. Dudley Simpson’s subtle whiplash music is very effective. When Carmen Silvera turns up I was half expecting her to scream ‘Rene! What are you doing with your arms around that servant girl!’ She’s a real casting coup. Being a Farscape fan hearing the name John Crichton made me squeal. The naiveté of the greatest environmental minds thinking they are off to an unspoilt planet is astonishing but it is a very pleasant idea. I love that Malcolm Hulke takes a very balanced view rather than merely condemning the human race. You have Ruth and Mark talking about cruelty and degradation on one hand and Sarah fighting back with love and beauty on the other. The script points at holding onto those things worth fighting for whilst also highlighting some of our ugliest mistakes. UNIT hunting the Doctor is beautifully shot with sweeping helicopters, car chases through derelict hangars and woodland evasions – it really sells the idea of him being on the run dynamically (and Simpson’s music is excellent – sax, drums and piano!). ‘Well Doctor you better overpower me’ says Benton and you can’t help but adore this lovable grunt. The Mexican standoff between the Brig and the General is filmed during a beautiful sunset. Mike holds the gang at gunpoint and Benton kicks the crap out of Finch – all the UNIT regulars get some great material in this story. Hilariously the Doctor’s ‘moral of the day’ is undercut by the Brigadiers deadpan, ‘hmm.’
Dangerous Dinos: I don’t want to put the discussion of the dinosaurs into either the good or bad category but a special little category of their own. They deserve it. The Pterodactyl attack is edited so fast that you barely have time to register and its vicious jaws bursting through the car window is actually quite a good shock! The T Rex does look remarkably like the Chewits monster…but he also has a similarity to Sram from Terrahawks (which I haven’t seen for many a year but I still remember vividly its horrid pointy teeth and glistening mouth as it growled furiously!). See if you can find Sram on Google and you’ll see what I mean. What I really love is how much effort has gone into creating the miniature sets for the Dinos to wander about in. There are buildings, level crossings, subway stations, aircraft hangars and they all look pretty authentic. T Rex first appears with his head exploding from a building and his little wobbly claws are desperately cute (probably not the effect they were aiming for!). He disappears behind a building as if to say ‘I’ve had enough of this nonsense!’ as the army keep tossing grenades at him! The Stegosaurus looks rather good and the model industrial estate is excellent. The Brontosaurus wobbles at bit in the magic of chromakey. Hehe…drunk T Rex falls face first to the floor and we see him snoozing like a baby through the window. Dozy Dino finally wakes up thanks to Sarah’s flash happy camera and its attack on her shouldn’t work (because the thing looks ridiculous) but Lis Sladen is so convincing and the tail smashing the window is another great shock moment. However, terrifying T Rex head butts the hangar girders and bursts through the wall saying ‘Surprise!’ Fighting off the Pterodactyl with a mop has to be seen to be believed. It’s nice to see a Dino with road safety and the Brontosaurus waits patiently behind traffic bollards. Celebrity Dino Death Match! Big T Rex vs. Billy Bronto! How on Earth did they think they could ever do this justice? Driving through Bad Boy Bronto’s legs is something you know the Doctor will be bragging about for years to come! I hope the Triceratops in the Underground wasn’t beamed back. Can you imagine a new series episode where he is discovered…actually should that be Primeval? I love love love the dinosaurs in this story, it’s another little diamond in Doctor Who’s crown of unbelievable verve.
The Bad Stuff: More of a complaint actually, the Doctor states ‘Great Britain always closes on Sundays.’ I wish. The Scots soldier accent slips from scene to scene. The Whomobile is a step too far into fantasy for this story and is possibly the campest expression of Pertwee’s midlife crisis yet. Look at all that litter on the streets of London – not a very subtle visual clue of how much we are polluting the planet. A big raspberry for episode four where the Dinos disappear for the length of a bible and the plot runs on the spot whilst the Doctor makes his way down to the underground base…only to make his way back up again! Doctor Who historians Howe, Stammers and Walker have quite a lot to answer for. For a long time their excellently researched but highly prejudiced books were the only decent reference works available and their dislike of stories such as The Gunfighters and Invasion of the Dinosaurs crept into fan consciousness. This was great for those of us that re-evaluated the story but a real shame for those who had made up their mind without giving them a chance.
The Shallow Bit: Sarah dresses up in a militant feminist trouser suit and leather jacket! The Doctor and Sarah get banged up with a nice bit of rough. Pertwee’s bouffant is astonishing, it looks as though he has stuck his finger in a power socket and it has given him more volume than even he bargained for! John fills out his tight T-shirt and even tighter trousers very nicely.
Result: Another slated story that is shot down thanks to the strength of its special effects and its manifold of treats ignored. It is a ridiculously ambitious premise that is sold completely by the strength of the performances. I secretly worship the dinos and if they do ever release this on DVD (not last please) with enhanced CGI effects I hope we can still watch the magnificent originals! Lets see, five things to love about Invasion of the Dinosaurs; Elisabeth Sladen’s winning performance, the wealth of superb location work, the chance for UNIT to shine again, the Doctor on the run and some deeper than usual bad guys. Paddy Russell’s direction is pacy, visually appealing and kind to the actors and Pertwee gives his best performance of the last season under her guidance. Only episode four slows down the story and honestly, if you are going to criticise a show for its dodgy special effects why are you a fan of Doctor Who? Despite a few minor complaints I have always found this story extremely engaging and re-visiting today I haven’t changed my opinion at all: 9/10
Death to the Daleks written by Terry Nation and directed by Michael Briant
Good Grief: Always comes back from Florana feeling a hundred years younger, another of the Doctor’s mystical unseen pleasure worlds that we never get to visit! This is just how he coaxes these young slips into the TARDIS, isn’t it? He knows they will always end up somewhere cold and miserable but he promises seas of warm milk (ugh!). Once again there is a lovely chemistry between the third Doctor and Sarah, a much forgotten team. Mind you he snaps at her when she sarcastically reels off his descriptions of Florana when it is clear they haven’t landed there! Finally the Doctor has the chance to taunt the Daleks and he really enjoys the experience, he mouths off at them without fear of them blasting the shit out of him! ‘The only alternative to living is dying’, I love the cold logic of that statement. Leaping into a religious ceremony, the Doctor risks execution to save Sarah’s life. I love the scenes of the Doctor and Sarah creeping through the catacombs trying to convince each other that the growling up ahead is just a subterranean wind effect (‘Next time you have an idea…keep it to yourself.’). He really must go on a diet one of these days! There’s a moment where he tells Sarah he may not return from the city and he strokes her face very intimately and there seems to be far more going on than is actually in the script. Pertwee’s Doctor is so casually arrogant you have to admire his audacity: ‘The city defies all attempts to interfere with it’ ‘I think I know a way.’ The universe is now down to 699 wonders, which makes the Doctor sad.
Juicy Journalist: Sarah can sink anywhere! I love her sense of humour (‘hooray for old fashioned oil!’) and she has already made me forget about Jo. She’s smart enough to head back into the TARDIS when she is wearing inappropriate clothing for the climate (unlike Peri who would have stayed in her bikini!). The Doctor admits that Sarah is rather headstrong and is probably out looking for him right now rather than remaining in the safety of the TARDIS. I love how she roughs up Bellal and hysterically throws a dozen questions at the Doctor when he escapes the Dalek. Sarah fills bags full of sand and tricks the Daleks into thinking they have the Perinium, she’s a crafty cow, you’ve got to watch her!
The Good Stuff: Anyone expecting a Death to the Daleks bashing better look elsewhere because this is one of the earliest Doctor Who stories I ever saw and still only have the crappy old edited together VHS and I fell in love with it at 13 and I still love it now. The opening scenes look gorgeous, a man runs through a mist swathed half-light and is shot in the stomach and falls to his death into muddy water. The TARDIS losing all of its juice is a great idea, especially in the Pertwee where the ship hardly features. Suddenly the ship becomes a frightening place full of shadows and silence, almost sepulchral. Michael Briant’s direction is very underrated, I really like the Exxilon hands groping into view as the Doctor and Sarah explore. The atmosphere in the first episode is genuinely frightening; Exxilon might be the creepiest alien planet yet (just look at Sarah running through the misty fog!). Both the Doctor and Sarah deck the crap out of the Exxilon’s – don’t get them mad! I always applaud dodgy effects if you can see that real effort has gone into making them work but the technology isn’t quite there to realise it but the Exxilon city is genuinely awesome special effect for the time and it still looks pretty good today. There are fades and POVs; Briant uses all sorts of tricks to keep this visually interesting. A story that features Stone Age tribes, a sacred city, monsters and stock SF characters shouldn’t work but everybody treats it so seriously it’s absorbing. Its nice to have high stakes and the thought of ten million people dying is devastating. Candle lit, incense laced sacrifice scenes with delirious chanting, this is great stuff. Even though the Daleks are powerless (probably the best idea in a story bubbling with innovation) you just know the devious buggers will turn on their allies eventually. The score for this story comes in for some bashing but as a child I loved the simple, catchy music and alas still find myself humming along with the addictive tunes. Galloway is a great character, a definite shade of grey (his chat with Stewart on his death bed suggests a fascinating relationship between the two). What a great image the Dalek whose head blows off is with the Exxilon’s using the burnt shell as a totem of war! This story sees the Daleks at their most cool, fitting themselves with machines and gunning down two random Exxilons for target practice! The Daleks blast away in the inner sanctum with casual abandon, it’s a massacre! Bellal is another wonderful character, I fell him love with him at 13 and really wished he could have left with the Doctor and Sarah. Even the backstory of the Exxilon’s is interesting, creating their own destruction by building a city that could protect, repair and maintain itself, a living entity. I remember screaming at the burning Exxilon to fall backwards into the water at 13 and then a Dalek is kissed by the hoover pipe of death! A building full of puzzles and games that kill you in you lose, what’s this Knightmare? The maze on the wall, the deadly IKEA flooring, the hypno room and Daleks in hot pursuit…how could kids fail to love this? The Daleks just glide over the flooring of doom and then blast the crap out of it when it has no effect on them! The sanity assault really used to freak me out when I was younger; there really is nothing quite this psychedelic anywhere else in Doctor Who. The story keeps coming up with fun ideas; the city creates antibodies to protect itself. The Doctor and Bellal run through the city whilst it has a nervous breakdown. The Daleks are like big kids; once they have taken some Perineum they want to scorch the planet so nobody else can have any! Galloway’s suicide is a lovely touch.
The Bad Stuff: The POV shots of the Exxilons look like a camera in a duvet. Goofy, state-the-obvious Jill Tarrant annoys! The Dalek saucer once again looks like a bottle top…did they learn nothing from Planet of the Daleks? The hoover pip of death has to be seen to be believed! The chatter between the Daleks is as banal as ever and they plot amongst themselves by screaming out their plans within earshot of those they want to deceive! A cliffhanger without revealing a threat, only the Doctor’s reaction to it is very unusual. Is this the first time we have seen a Dalek have a nervous breakdown because it has failed one task? It’s a shame the death of the city is so clearly model work (although the melting walls and screaming are great).
Result: Death to the Daleks is another season eleven corker that comes in for a lot of criticism but I really enjoy it. At four parts this story has a fantastic pace and there’s always half a dozen things to overcome keeping it exciting. The new look Daleks are pretty snazzy, they look as though they have been assembled rather than plastic BBC props. Its nothing but a stack of really groovy set pieces but each of them work and Michael Briant keeps the story visually arresting throughout. Nowhere near as tired and worn as people will lead you to believe, this is an inventive and snazzy little piece with plenty of atmosphere: 8/10
The Monster of Peladon written by Brian Hayles and directed by Lennie Mayne
This story in a nutshell: A return to the medieval world of Peladon…
Good Grief: ‘I can’t believe he’s dead. He was the most alive person I’ve ever met…’ I found the Jon Pertwee interview in the latest issues of DWM extremely interesting especially with regards to his approach to the role in season eleven. By all accounts he was grieving for the loss of Katy Manning and Roger Delgado, he was working with the knowledge that the role that had made him a household name was soon to come to an end and he was no longer surrounded by comforts such as UNIT and the Brigadier on a regular basis. To throw in a new assistant must have been tricky especially after his relationship with Katy Manning was so spectacular. And yet somehow (and this is something that he acknowledges with some pride) there is a palpable chemistry between him and Sarah Jane that is vastly different from that of the third Doctor and Jo and also acres apart from the relationship between the fourth Doctor and Sarah. It is there in their games of trust in The Time Warrior, and when he tempts her with the delights of a trip to Florana in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, and when he cups her face so intimately in Death to the Daleks before he heads off to the City of the Exxilons. And it’s never felt keener in the lead up to the regeneration scene in Planet of the Spiders – I can’t think of a scene more intimately played between two actors in Doctor Who. There is something very special between them, a Doctor a little past his best and a companion in her prime and brought together they ground each other and produce real magic. Away from Sarah is where the problems lie (at least with this story, I think Pertwee acquits himself rather well in every other season eleven story) as Pertwee seems to breeze through one scene to the next without a care in the world. Is this really the same Doctor who screamed out in frustration when the world was burning in Inferno? It almost feels as if the return to Peladon was in some way appeasing the leading man by surrounding him with familiar things before his swansong but the resulting effort that he puts into his performance is subjacent to the norm. Saying all that the characterisation is still mostly excellent and he lives up to the typical Terrance Dicks description of the Doctor (which is as succinct an example as you are going to get); he’s charming and courteous, protects the underdog, is never cruel or cowardly and faces death in order to save lives. Perhaps Pertwee is a little more complacent than usual but there is certainly no part of this story that you could point at and say he is giving a poor performance or that the Doctor is behaving out of character (and that is not something you could always say about various other incarnations). It’s moments like the Doctor hypnotising Aggedor with his spinning mirror whilst singing a Venusian Lullaby when I love Doctor Who the most. No other show in the history of anything ever would dare to present anything as absurd as this. It’s lovely that the Doctor gets to indulge in one more swordfight before his regeneration and Pertwee’s Doctor looks magnificent clashing swords with Ettis (Terry Walsh, less so). The Doctor is at his best in episode six when he tinkers about in the refinery and continues to be witty and defiant even when Eckersley throws all the mind tricks he can at him.
Investigative Journalist: It’s interesting to compare how Brian Hayles writes for his two female protagonists in the Peladon stories. Drippy Jo is easily shoehorned into the role of playing royalty and falling in love whereas tomboy Sarah spends her time arguing her way out of trouble, grappling with soldiers and miners and taking an active role in the fight to reclaim the planet. It looks like women’s lib really has dawn on this show. In her Doctor Who career Lis Sladen has had to convince in the face some pretty absurd looking props posing as monsters (she managed to make Big Man T-Rex from Invasion of the Dinosaurs a genuine threat for a few seconds, that’s how good she is) but her fazed reaction to being first confronted with Alpha Centuri clearly shows that she is being pushed to the absolute limits. She soon slips into her groove and they develop and affectionate relationship. It’s how the other characters react to Centuri that make it so convincing (at least to me). Come episode two she stands between Centuri and sword wielding mainiac, grappling with Ettis with her usual spunk. Show don’t tell has always been my philosophy so having Sarah ram the idea of feminism down Tharila’s throat is the one time when I felt that she was a walking diatribe rather than a authentic character with an attitude that favours equality. I half expected her to walk out the throat room declaring ‘power to the batches!’ and clicking her fingers. It’s a shame because everywhere else in this story Sarah is handled as excellently as ever. Episode six is great for Sarah where she gets to hold a gun on Eckersley, bravely face what she thinks is going to be a shot to the back and grieve over the loss of her best friend.
Menagerie: It’s not secret that this is direct sequel to The Curse of Peladon and as such it tries to cram in as many of the popular monsters from that story as possible whilst trying to add a few more to the mythos. It’s also true that I have an unerring affection for Alpha Centuri which completely bypasses my good taste chip and forces me to ignore all the design faults and naiveté that goes into creating such a creature. Whether it’s Ysanne Churchman’s insanely shrill voice, Stuart Fell’s intimate gesturing (oo-er), Brian Hayles’ scripting or simply because I immediately sympathise with any creature that looks that phallic I couldn’t tell but in my mind this is a living, breathing ‘penis in a cloak’ (TM Terrance Dicks) and in no way a rubber costume with a stuntman inside. In fact in my more delirious moments I can be seen menacing my husband around the flat with my hands as claws going ‘che-che-che…we could all have been killed!’ and trying to grapple the phone off him as he attempts to ring the local nuthouse. His bitchy line in episode five ‘thank you Eckersley but you are still a traitor!’ might be the best thing in this entire story. Vega Nexos doesn’t last beyond episode one but he continues the bizarre fascination of trying to make all aliens that visit Peladon as weird as possible, what with his glassy boss eyes, his bare man boobs and his impressively hairy legs. Perhaps not the most convincing of races ever developed for the show but the way everybody seems to accept him convinces the viewer that this is a perfectly acceptable representative of his planet. Although given that the make up and costume artistes have failed to glue his eyes on in line makes that hard to swallow at times. Needless to say I have been looking for a head warmer in the style of the Peladon miner badger wear but to no avail. I hate it when science fiction shows feel the need to give their aliens funny haircuts to try and suggest their otherworldliness and this a particularly comical example. Bless Rex Robinson for acting his way out of it, the only miner to escape the show with any real dignity. Aggedor is still a man in a monkey suit but Lennie Mayne seems more careful this time to keep him in the shadows and to shoot him dramatically with quick cuts.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘Quite the little Napoleon, aren’t we?’
- Since this is our second visit to Peladon it is quite nice to see how the place looks given another airing. This planet made quite an impact back in season nine, offering up a stormy, wind lashed castle atop a mountain with creepy catacombs to play about in. Monster re-uses the same sets but there is definitely a different vibe this time around. I would say that the main sets feel plainer and the lighting is far simpler (it isn’t helped by what is clearly supposed to be an imaginatively shot high angle in the throne room that really exposes the paucity of the set and the flatness of the studio floor) and less atmospheric but the catacombs (they’re called mines this time) are much improved for being shot on film. It genuinely feels as though they have found some old mine workings to film the show in. Regardless it’s still a fun playhouse of gothic trappings to play about in.
- What to make of the Aggedor creature? Through the eyes of an adult it is clearly a poorly disguised bit of trickery (although the mass murder it commits is certainly a convincing point in its favour) but to a young child this might just be the ultimate fright. A glowing, roaring, giant statue that belches smoke and strikes people dead with a breath of fire. Plus it zips about all over the place, appearing apparently at random and it is that unpredictability that gives it is edge. Mind you the extra that dies in the first scene is almost as frightening, or at least his performance is.
- Donald Gee as Eckersley is so charming, affable and carefree that it would have been a greater surprise if he hadn’t turned out to be the villain. He’s also decked in black leather, camp as hell, smooths his way in with Sarah and revels in being the sexiest person around on Peladon. And his hands never stray far from his hips. He really couldn’t give off any more indications that he is up to no good. Half the fun is waiting for him to make his move whilst wrapping everybody around his little finger. I wont say that Gee is giving a particularly nuanced performance (because he really isn’t) but he does everything that the script requires of him. Only a baddie would hop into a room and exclaim ‘Alright chum, I’m here, what’s the panic?’ When the Ice Warriors turn up he brilliantly refuses to admit that any of this argy-bargy is anything to do with him and the way that Azaxyr treats him so gently suggests that there might have been some interspecies romance in the past between them. He’s the sort of villain who every bugger can eavesdrop on at the appropriate point and hear him rubbing his hands together and cooing ‘fooled them all…’ Eckersley even knows which camera to turn to in a sweep of villainous decadence as he declares that once the Ice Warriors win he will be ruler of Earth. Despite his many failings, you can’t help but love this guy (when he pulls out his gun to shoot a bystander he does so with an apologetic ‘sorry chum’). Thalira is appalled by the mess of bodies in the mines both Pels and Ice Warriors and as proof that he has what it takes to make it with the best baddies Eckersley looks around and shrugs ‘never mind.’ What a guy. Anything less than a tussle with Ageddor would have been a disapointing end for him.
- Anyone who argues that the Pertwee era didn’t have a deliberate political agenda (stand up Terrance) must surely crumble in the face of the complaints that the miners bring to the Doctor in the form of bad pay, terrible working conditions and no thanks. It’s nice that Doctor Who can bridge the gap between fiction and reality like this and make a Citizen Smith stand for the underdog. It even ensures that the miners aren’t entirely blameless in what they are accused of either to keep things balanced.
- Hindsight is a wonderful thing but the whole mystery of what is behind the refinery door generates some great suspense early in the story that is somewhat lacking in the miner plot.
- Functional, adequate and acceptable are all uncomplimentary words to toss at a director but I mean them with the greatest respect when it comes to Lennie Mayne’s handling of this story. He’s not looking to revolutionise genre television (like Graeme Harper) or to craft each shot artistically (stand up David Maloney) or even turn the show into a masterpiece of action (a round of applause for Douglas Camfield) but instead Mayne wants to provide six episodes of rollicking entertainment. I wouldn’t even say it is Mayne’s best direction (that for me would be The Hand of Fear) but he seems very comfortable here (perhaps a little too comfortable on the odd occasion) and every now and again there is a shot that really makes you ponder how the hell he did that (such as the long shot looking up from the pit at the Queen, Ortron and Centuri staring down). The POV shot of the miners attacking an Ice Warrior from inside the helmet is quite imaginative too.
- The end of episode three is a doozy with an Ice Warrior baring down on the camera. It’s precisely what I have been hankering for since the very beginning…some real menace. I really like the mind games that they chose to play with the Ice Warriors in the Pertwee era, first pulling off a coup by having them turn up as noble and honest creatures in Curse of Peladon (against all expectations) and now reversing that innovation and having them return to their malignant ways (although a line is slipped in to suggest this a splinter group so their portrayal in Curse is still how the race should be seen in general). To be honest I prefer them as baddies because there is something marvellously chilling about their design and menacing about the way they are shot. The green carapace armour looks fantastic in colour and they add to the rich blush (the Doctor’s coat, the royal purples of the Queen and Ortron’s costumes) that stand out from all the beiges and browns on offer elsewhere. Alan Bennion plays a very different kind of Ice Lord to the one he presented in Curse, relishing the chance to play bad and spit out each line for all they are worth. My one complaint about the Ice Warriors is that one of their number has been fitted with a helmet so smiley that he lacks any menace when he stomps along the corridors with a huge grin plastered all over his face (it wouldn’t seem out of place for him to scream ‘please be my friend!’ as he pursues all and sundry). Brilliantly the Ice Warriors take out eight miners in about three seconds, showing that they mean business. Although they get their comeuppance when Aggedor turns on them (and make sure you keep your eyes peeled for the Ice Warrior who legs it up the passage when two of his chums get disintegrated). Ice Warriors are clearly not above the old hiding behind pillars routine and waiting until the miners are up close and then cutting them all down (think of the similar trick that Daleks pulled off in their first story with the Thals).
- In typical tidy Terrance Dicks style, the narrative turns back on itself when the Ice Warriors arrive so the miners that had been such a threat in the first half of the story are now working with the Doctor and co (except Ettis of course but he’s got problems) to try and save the planet. Azaxyr’s terror methods unite the people of Peladon to rise up against their oppressors. It’s no neat you could write a thesis on it. It’s practically the same tight narrative construction that unfolds in Paradise Towers but it is (mostly) praised in that story and declared lazy in Monster of Peladon. Come episode five I had completely forgotten about the identity of the miscreant controlling the ‘spirit of Aggedor’ so the way it is suddenly dropped in was a great surprise. Then for the Doctor to figure out how the trick was done and use it against those who were exploiting it in the first place…Terrance Dicks’ elegance at its finest.
- I don’t know if the scripts for Planet of the Spiders were written at this point but there is some marvellous foreshadowing for the events that were about to strike. The sequence where Sarah thinks the Doctor is dead is magnificently played by Elisabeth Sladen (you genuinely believe that Sarah thinks the Doctor is gone) and its a dummy run for what would play out in the next story. Also Sarah mentions that the Doctor always said that while there’s life there’s hope which are his eventual dying words.
- By the end of the story it is clear that there is a hierarchy of villains in this tale that is quite similar to The War Games (except The War Games pulls it off far more memorably). On the bottom rung of the ladder is Ortron who means well but causes trouble regardless, followed by psycho miner Ettis who cannot be reasoned with, topped by the Ice Warriors who are thrilled at the chance to go on a killing spree, led by Azaxyr who is motivated by greed and power and at the top strutting about in tight leather is Eckersley who is running rings around them all. It would have been awesome if at the last minute Alpha Centuri had swished his cloak and revealed that he was the brains of the outfit all along.
- Nina Thomas is no David Troughton, that’s for sure. You can remind me that she is supposed to be a naïve young slip of a Queen until you are blue in the face but that still doesn’t excuse how vacant Thomas appears to be in the role at times. Thalira has a habit of speaking her lines with a glassy stare that suggests she’s just taken a good sniff of powered Peladon lapacho. I’ll toss Sarah’s feminism aside for a moment and point out that she is a bit of fox though. Even when she finally grows some balls (metaphorically speaking), she’s a bit rubbish being dragged from cave to cave by Eckersley. She’s wetter than a frogs backside and drippier than a frying pan after a days work at a greasy spoon. As if Sarah needed to ask if she could faint convincingly. It feels as if the women’s lib angle is added so Thalira can rise up and do something brave and prove her worth but at the climax she is still being dragged around by men. Useless harpy, they should stick Sarah on the throne.
- This is far from Dudley Simpson’s best score for the show and in parts seems to be made up of a ‘best of’ series of steals from other stories. Things improve exponentially when the Ice Warriors show up (it feels as though he is invested in the story again) and he provides them with a terrific scream-like sting that really sends a shiver down the spine when they appear. He has a fit on the bongos (or whatever drums he happens to be playing) in episode six as Eckersley and Thalira take a tour of the catacombs.
- At times the story does seem to forget what constitutes an interesting story. Demonstrations of mining technology might be impressive on a production level but it feels like we have wandered into a dreary ‘how it’s made’ documentary on Sky. With aliens.
- Ettis is one of those characters that turns up in Doctor Who at least once a season who is so obstinate and irrational he is constructed out of plot conveniences rather than characteristics. He is just there to muddy the waters, to stir up trouble and to get in the Doctor’s way. Without Ettis this story could comfortably be three parts long. Ralph Watson does what he can with what is basically a series of rants that equate to little more than narrative contrivances but he cannot mine (hohoho) for anything deeper because if he went looking he would discover there is nothing there. Ortron is similarly defiant but at least he is seen to have a decent reason for doing so and he shows some genuine concern for Thalira and Peladon in his machinations. Ettis handicaps events because that is what he is designed to do. Come episode four he has to be put out of his misery, he’s killing his closest friends and threatening mass murder of all in the citadel. There was nothing more extreme to be done with this cipher.
- The end of episode one is absolutely precious with Blor’s hilarious reaction to being confronted with the spirit of Aggedor being more akin to a baby gurgling at an extreme high pitch. Go and watch it again. I promise you most comedies couldn’t score laughs like this. Perhaps somebody high up at the BBC complained that Doctor Who was no longer taking itself seriously because the gurgle has miraculously vanished during the reprise in episode two. It loses something as a result.
- Come episode three and the story desperately needs something more potent than the miners and their machinations to prop the story up. Fortunately Brian Hayles has something scaly, green and nasty right up his sleeve and they don’t come along a moment too soon.
- In a shocking moment of oversight the director doesn’t even bother to use a Jon Pertwee voiceover as Terry Walsh takes on Ettis. He just has Walsh do a particularly gravelling Pertwee impression. Face hits palm.
The Shallow Bit: Sarah is wearing a leather jacket and chords. As far as I am concerned the only year she had any dress sense was season eleven (although her later fashion effrontery was admittedly much more fun and said something about how much she had loosened up – like the Doctor – into a seasoned time traveller).
Result: Nowhere near as bad as its reputation. On the one hand The Monster of Peladon is overlong, padded, repetitive and unoriginal but on the other it is exciting, topical, adventurous and bursting with character. I’m probably not the best person to talk about the Pertwee six parters (plus) because I pretty much adore most of them and not just because of their individual merits (and with stories like Inferno, The Sea Devils & Frontier in Space these are easy to spot). Their length means that you get taken on an extended adventure away from your life for a while (and let’s be honest there are always times when that is a necessity) in the hands of one of the most expert storytellers (Terrance Dicks’ nuts’n’bolts approach to Who pervades his era). For six episodes you can get whisked away to Peladon or Draconia or Spiridon for an action packed adventure infused with great morals (the way that the good guys triumph so spectacularly over evil makes this perfect fairytale Who, with mining). It might be easier to approach this era as a child in that respect but I think there are times even as an adult where it is necessary to drag out your inner ankle biter and immerse yourself in something as pleasurable as formulaic classic Who. In this respect The Monster of Peladon comes out extremely favourably featuring as it does monsters you can coo at (Alpha Centuri) and monsters you can hiss at (the Ice Warriors), a dastardly villain (Eckersley), a rock solid Doctor (even a somnambulistic Pertwee is debonair and upright) a feisty companion (the inestimable Sarah Jane), plenty of running about, action and danger and even the odd moment of high drama (the Doctor’s apparent death and Sarah Jane’s reaction) to take your breath away. I’m not trying to pretend for one moment that this is classic Who or anything approaching it because it is far too safe and habitual to really make an impact but it is perfect comfort viewing on a evening when you are at a loose end. I can think of nothing finer than slipping into the TARDIS and heading off to Peladon to help the Doctor out in an exciting adventure involving miners, monsters and modest hermaphrodite hexapods. Don’t expect anything revolutionary but do expect typically engaging Doctor Who. If this is the sort of thing you don’t like then I don’t know what you are doing watching Doctor Who because so much of its oeuvre is made up out ubiquitous action adventure like this that taps into your inner kid: 6/10
Planet of the Spiders written by Robert Sloman (with Barry Letts) and directed by Barry Letts
Good Grief: Another superb showing for Pertwee’s third Doctor in what I have now decided is the hugely underrated season 11 (I haven’t reviewed The Monster of Peladon yet but the first three stories earned 9, 9 and 8). It’s fitting that in his swansong that we get to see all aspects of the incredible (and again often underrated) third Doctor. He’s fun and playful, a man of action, beautifully serious at times and violently takes on his opponents. With a mixture of Earthbound and alien landscapes it is the ultimate summing up of his era. The Doctor plays along with the Professor for a while before surprising him with the truth that he knows he is a powerful clairvoyant – the Doctor is every bit the performer that Clegg is. Of course only Benton’s coffee could rouse the Doctor from his trance. He spent some of the finest days of his life with the Hermit from Gallifrey, learning to see into his mind and look at the universe afresh. There has always been fabulous chemistry between Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen but just watch the scene in episode two where he doesn’t listen to anything she is saying then makes her repeat it again when she says something that catches his attention. I adore the Baker/Sladen chemistry naturally but she also had a terrific rapport with Pertwee, which is often forgotten with what comes next. With these two it feels far more like two equals than it ever did with the Doctor and Jo Grant. The vanity of the man as he stops the Brigadier from shooting at Lupton because he might damage his car! The chase sequence is Pertwee’s dream come true, so many high-speed vehicles to get his hands on! He talks about the TARDIS as though she were alive and always leaving the landing spot to the ship herself after giving her the location. The Doctor and Sarah share some very funny ‘larder’ black humour. I was laughing my head of at the Doctor wiggling his way free of the webbing crying ‘Harry Hackenschmidt!’ The Great One pulls the Doctor’s strings like a puppet and he is not accustomed to losing control and being so frightened. The Doctor accepts that it was his greed for knowledge that set all this off, stealing the crystal in the first place. His reunion with his mentor is very touching and we discover that the disciplines of the Time Lords was not for the Doctor and so he stole the TARDIS. I’m so glad that the third Doctor got such a brave exit – he was always one to walk into danger and here he faces his fear even at the cost of his own life. He is missing for three weeks after confronting the Great One as the cells in his body degenerate and the TARDIS brings him home, which tellingly is Earth, UNIT Headquarters. Pertwee is astonishingly gentle and devastating in his last scene, proof of what a superb actor he is right up to the last moment and the silent close up on his ghostly face when he dies always reduces me to tears. Such a great last story for him.
My Sarah Jane: I thought it would be hard to watch this story after the news of Elisabeth Sladen’s death. That night I had guests and had to hold myself together with smiles until they had left but as soon as the door was shut I collapsed in the hall and burst into tears and couldn’t stop. Look back on my previous reviews – I have always loved Sarah Jane and Lis Sladen’s commitment to the character and the show has always impressed above and beyond any other actor that has appeared in Doctor Who. It was a devastating blow to lose the Doctor’s best friend; it felt like a little bit of my childhood had died. But when I stuck Planet of the Spiders on I didn’t find myself choking back tears but as enthralled as ever by her superb performance – I laughed at Sarah poking fun at the Buddhism, loved her awesome interaction with the Doctor, screamed as the spider appeared on her back and finally the tears came as she wept over the Doctor’s death. The greatest sentiment in the CBBC tribute last night was that we should not selfishly groan about what we wont see from Elisabeth in the future but bask in the incredible work she has done over the years in creating such a marvellous character. I intend to do just that – I will always love Sarah Jane and I shall continue to enjoy her unique contribution to the Doctor Who universe. The commentaries on these DVDs are a wonderful bonus because we can still spend many hours in Elisabeth’s company for years to come.
Sarah is still after a good story and cannot resist Mike Yates’ summons to the monastery in deepest marmoset, although you get the strong impression that she feels something for the man as well after the incident with the Golden Age bunch. She’s still a career girl here, working for Metropolitan magazine and it’s a shame that we lost that once she was whisked off into time and space by the fourth Doctor (but hey ho – she’s back at it again in real style when she is reunited with the Doctor in School Reunion). She is respectful to a point but some of the meditations are worth poking fun at (‘like contemplating their belly buttons?’). Sarah emphasises with Tommy, she doesn’t patronise him and as such he is drawn to her. She is clearly not keen on spiders or cobwebs! I love how real Sarah feels, discussing fabulous planets and aliens like talking about fish and chips and the Liverpool docks. We get a glimpse of Sarah’s future grief as the Doctor lies unconscious on Metebelies Three. The possessed Sarah with the spider on her back is ‘good grief!’ indeed! I love how she smells his coat to remind herself of him three weeks after he has gone to his death; she really loves him very much. Her tears at his death make this easily the most affecting regeneration.
Chap With Wings: Another tragic loss to Doctor Who making the commentary on this story an especially valuable one. It’s a shame that we couldn’t have had more of the Brig in the third Doctor’s last story (compared to say Robot where he is a strong presence throughout) but how wonderful is it that the Doctor and the Brigadier are off out socialising together? Of course the Brig likes a bit of the old exotic dancing, the dirty get! There’s a very revealing moment that the Brigadier seems to want to skip over – a moment of intimacy in Brighton with a young lady called Doris who would go on to be a very important person in his life.
Camp Captain: Its most unlike Doctor to look back to previous adventures and serialise them so to have Mike Yates come back after his betrayal of the Doctor and the Brigadier in Invasion of the Dinosaurs is a lovely moment of development and redemption for the character. Mike is trying to find himself in a Tibetan Monastery after his discharge from UNIT. The fiendish cunning of the man hiding away and spying on the spooky goings on in the cellar. His compassion protects him when he is attacked by the Spiders. Whilst the character was set up originally to have a bit of a fling with Jo Grant, his relationship with Sarah is far more flirtatious and you could see how if the wonderful Ian Marter wasn’t available that Sarah and Mike could have gone off into space with the Doctor.
Sparkling Dialogue: ‘When everything is new, can anything be a surprise?’
‘Bow down before me planets! Bow down stars!’
‘A tear, Sarah Jane? No don’t cry. While there’s life, there’s hope.’
The Good Stuff: Cobwebs strewn over the cellar and giant spiders jumping on peoples backs – its about time somebody drew on one of the greatest phobias and how wonderful to end the Pertwee years with such a memorable monster (from the era that gave us mannequins, gargoyles and maggots). Cyril Shaps is always welcome and creates a memorable character in the showman with a real talent for ESP. I love the contemporary atmosphere of the first episode, Sarah getting off a train and into Yates’ sports car. The ‘om man padme om’ chanting is quite alien and frightening. Catching up with Mike, a package from Jo and a reunion between the Doctor and his mentor – Planet of Spiders wraps up these threads whilst reminding us of the strengths of the era. The letter from Jo is charmingly written. Excitement abounds at the end of episode one with chaos in UNIT HQ, the Professor dead and a giant spider appearing! I think the feminine spider voices are some of the best in the series. Benton is such a lovable grunt offering himself up to spare the Doctor. Although it would have been wonderful to have had a climactic confrontation between the Doctor and the Master but lets be frank since then we have had plenty of those and they never end very well (Logopolis has the ending that was planned for the end of the this story and it was pretty naff). Lupton is a different kettle of fish to the Master, there is something frightening about a failed man who seeks power over others to make himself feel more important and John Dearth gives a fantastically feral, sweaty, violent and nasty, just-this-side-of-psychotic performance. Everybody piling into Bessie to chase the Whomobile should be tacky but I was cheering with joy! How fab is that bemused copper who sums up the insane situation beautifully? The chase is indulgent but its excitingly directed and full of great comedy touches – I loved it! The twitching, breathing spider court is a memorable set up – they look pretty damn good considering the year this was made and the spiders rearing up to attack is super creepy. Pertwee gets to indulge in a spectacular fight with three guards – Hiya! Judo Chop! Whilst they are stagey the night time Metebelies scenes are evocatively lit (both in the shadowy house and the moonlit exterior) and the funereal bell tolling pre empts the tragedy to come. The Spider Queen has horrid shiny eyes and twitching mandibles – ugh! John Kane’s performance as he reads the child’s book with ease is very affecting, it’s a mixture of relief and awe that it is all so effortless (‘that’s pretty…no its beautiful’). The backstory of the Spiders coming with the colonists to Metebelies Three and scuttling out of the spaceship into the crystal caves and becoming cleverer and larger is typically realistic Terrance Dicksian backstory. The numerous Spiders appearing in the cellar reduced Simon to cowering behind a cushion! The exchange: ‘Tommy you’re just like everybody else’ ‘I sincerely hope not’ is loaded with depth – after being an outsider all his life Tommy is now in the position to fit in and he cannot imagine anything worse. The story really needed somebody that radiated wisdom and good humour as K’anpo and George McCormack is superb. The Doctor’s mentor knows that they are both soon to regenerate and it is fascinating that one is played as a genuinely delightful rebirth and the other a tragic murder. The Great One is immense – what a beat of a Spider and the confrontation between them is epic. How could this possibly be the final Pertwee story without an almighty explosion and Barry Letts goes all out blowing up a mountain! I love how K’anpo gives the regeneration a little push.
The Bad Stuff: The Whomobile flying CSO is dreadful which is a pity given that the chase looks awesome before and after this special effects disaster. I have to say that until he stares into the crystal Tommy (and John Kane’s performance) does nothing for me. Sarah transporting from the cellar to Metebelies Three is clearly a dodgy special effect (but still a bit of a shock!). Jenny Laird is the only real weak link in the cast – she’s hilarious awful (‘I shant let them take you! I shant! I shant!’). The Spiders larder is a pretty dull set (and its hilarious the way they have spun webbed cushions) and the corridor sets are some of the most boring yet! Writers should never write in lines like ‘this is getting monotonous!’ because they are asking for their work to be judged thus. What is up with episode fives cliffhanger oddly reedited and five minutes into episode six?
The Shallow Bit: I kind of find Ralph Arliss really attractive – even dressed up like a hippy!
Result: Often unfairly criticised for a couple of dodgy effects, Planet of the Spiders is a fine celebration of the Pertwee era and a memorable tale for the main man to go out on. Stacked up against some dodgy CSO you have a large and genuinely impressive cast, creepy twitching spiders, plenty of well-directed action, terrific development of the Doctor, Sarah and Mike, some touchingly played moments of philosophy and lots of memorable scares. The first episode is one of the strongest of the era and the last episode takes the Doctor on the most important journey of his life so far, climaxing on a final scene that will melt your heart as the Doctor tries to comfort Sarah as he dies before her. The Metebelies sequences are quite theatrical but nowhere near as bad as people pretend they are and the power games with the Spiders are great fun. There are so many lovely touches throughout (Mike’s redemption, Jo’s letter, the return of the Doctor’s mentor, Sarah’s grief smelling the Doctor’s coat) it generates more than enough impetus to make this a worthy swansong to a memorable Doctor. With three of its main cast and the director now no longer with us it stands a fine example of their incredible work: 8/10